The Newbery Committee of the American Library Association once again surprised the library community by choosing Clare Vanderpool's debut novel Moon over Manifest as its 2011 winner. Set in Manifest, Kansas, the story takes place in 1936 during the Great Depression with flashbacks to 1918 and World War I.
We meet Abilene Tucker as arrives in Manifest by jumping off the train because it's "best to get a look at a place before it gets a look at you." She's come to stay with Shady Howard, a sometime pastor, salon owner, and bootlegger. Her father, Gideon, has taken a job on the railroad in Iowa and it wasn't appropriate for her to accompany him. Abilene is a spunky girl used to hopping trains and living without too many comforts. She arrives in Manifest the day before school is out for the summer. She meets Lettie and Ruthanne and the 3 become good friends.
Abilene discovers a little tin of momentoes in her room at Shady's. Each has an important significance in the life of the towns' people and indirectly or directly Abilene's life. The stories, told in flashback to 1918, are woven by Miss Sadie, a diviner. She is quite the character who knows the history of the town inside and out. Each time and place has its own story, mystery and excitement. I wondered if the young audience for whom the book was written would be able to follow the switching back and forth. Throughout the novel the parade of memorable characters make appearances from Sister Redempta, nun and teacher to Hattie Mae Harper, journalist and historian. Abilene must sort out the stories as she and Lettie and Ruthanne try to find a spy, understand who Jinx and Ned are, and why Abilene's father has left her. It was helpful to have a listing of the characters at the beginning of the novel.
This novel reminded me so much of others I have read: A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck, The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, Nowhere to Call Home by Cynthia DeFelice, and Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo. This is a solid piece of historical fiction, though not groundbreaking. I liked the book, but did not love it. It would appeal to both boys and girls, but I think a hard sell on its own. Perhaps it is best shared by teacher reading it to his or her class.